Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

51RqOrvgisL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Gallowglass [Gaelic: galloglaigh] An elite Scottish mercenary warrior. 

Gallowglass is the final instalment in the Douglas Brodie series set in the harsh world of post Second World War Scotland.

Brodie, a crime reporter for the Glasgow Gazette is recovering from chasing Nazi war criminals across Glasgow is asked by the wife of a distinguished banker to carry the ransom money to his kidnappers. But Brodie is being set up and is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Sir Fraser Gibson of the Scottish Linen Bank. The world was a very different place in 1947…..

Viscount Louis Mountbatten had just announced the intended partition of India and the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan. It meant the loss of the shiniest jewel in our imperial crown. Violence was already erupting as the citizens of these nascent states took sides. I’d given it a local spin by suggesting it might put up the price of Lipton’s. 

Some things never change, but in 1947 the UK including Scotland had the death penalty, therefore Brodie’s friends including his lover advocate Samantha Campbell, and those in MI5 who remember his exemplary war service and his efforts to uncover the Nazi ratline, engineer an escape. Brodie must deal with crooked cops, local gangsters and  a privileged elite for whom embezzlement is a way of life in order to save himself from the gallows. 

Brodie as a character, his relationship with Sam Campbell, and the detailed accounts of Glasgow with its social divisions between rich and poor, are the reasons I like the series. Brodie is a bit like a Scottish Bulldog Drummond, but one without the nasty jingoism that spoils Sapper’s books for a modern reader. But he does go rushing around righting wrongs and putting villains in their place. The first person narrative flows easily and there is always a little humour as when Brodie is in prison and Sam brings him his reading material.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, the tale of a man wrongfully imprisoned, who escapes and then metes out justice and revenge on the men who’d arranged his incarceration. My plan exactly.

Gordon Ferris has written an exciting adventure story with some relevant comments for our time. I am quite sad to see the end of Brodie, he was an interesting man, a veteran who had gone through the trauma of war and its aftermath to return home at a very difficult time for Britain. 

Halfway along stood the Scottish Linen bank, its solid red sandstone facade proclaiming rectitude and propriety. 

Your money is safe with us and we might let you have some of it back if you ask politely and do a bit of grovelling.    

My review of Pilgrim Soul.

41Cg4odPZZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The Red Road is the fourth book in Denise Mina’s Detective Inspector Alex Morrow series set in Glasgow. It was intended that the Red Road blocks of flats were to be demolished as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, but that idea has now been scrapped. The blocks were built in the 1960s and if the architects, politicians and administrators, who planned their construction had been required to live in them for a few weeks they would have been demolished much earlier.

The Red Road narrative is in two time frames and the story is told from several perspectives. The reader is informed at the start that on the night Princess Diana dies in her car crash in Paris, Rose Wilson a 14 year child prostitute stabs to death young Pinkie Brown, another 14 year resident in a children’s home, and then her abuser Sammy.

Sixteen years later DI Alex Morrow is giving evidence against Pinkie’s younger brother local gangster Michael Brown, who had served time for his brother’s 800px-Red_Road_flats_2murder. But Michael’s fingerprints have turned up all over a murder scene high in the half demolished Red Road flats. The murder of Aziz Balfour has occurred while Michael was held in prison so this is impossible? Meanwhile Robert McMillan, whose father Julius represented Rose when she was tried for the murder of Sammy, is hiding in a remote castle. He expects to be murdered as he has exposed a money laundering ring to the SOCA [Serious Organised Crime Agency]. His wife Francine, and three children are attending  his father Julius McMillan’s funeral along with the children’s nanny, Rose Wilson.

I thought at first that I was confused by the plot because I had not been concentrating as much as I do when reading translated crime fiction, but later I realised the degree of complexity was the reason. Obviously diving into book four of a series causes problems and I wish now I had read the earlier books, one of which The End of Wasp Season won both the 2011 Martin Beck Award in Sweden, and the 2012 Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year. Once I had got further into the book everything became much clearer and I found this excellent example of tartan noir very dark and depressingly factual.

Pakistan could be a rich country, you know, a safe country. All over the world, they’ve raised enough money to build three houses for every single family made homeless by the earthquakes but they’re still living in tents, children dying of cold and hunger.

It’s bastards like Dawood who let that happen.

But you can’t prove it because he never touches anything, someone else holds the money, someone else holds the drugs, the guns, the everything.  

The story gives an account of a corrupt police force, corrupt alcoholic lawyers, and the depressingly bleak lives of those who are not in that rich elite that is comfortably insulated from real life. The Red Road is a good story that needs some degree of concentration from the reader to follow all the characters, and their interactions.

I did however enjoy the character of Alex Morrow, a cop with one year old twins and whose half brother  is a notorious gangster, and is surrounded on all sides by problems. I may go back to read the earlier books in the series. 

Every police force had corruption issues, but Strathclyde’s were over giant bags of greasy bank notes, not fripperies of social status. It seemed more honest to Morrow, somehow.    

51OADLTxBaL._I requested an ARC of The Fire Dance by Helene Tursten because I had enjoyed the first book in the series, Detective Inspector Huss. The Fire Dance is number six in this series set in Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city.

I was a little surprised to see that a blurb from NPR’s Fresh Air on the back cover stating that this ‘mystery holds its own alongside the best feminine hard-boiled novels currently being written by Englishwomen Val McDermid and Liza Cody….’.

Is this the first time that Val McDermid from Kirkcaldy, Fife [a lifelong Raith Rovers supporter along with Ian Rankin and ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown] ever been called an Englishwoman? 

Fifteen years before the main events in The Fire Dance Irene Huss was asked to question a child Sophie Malmborg, whose stepfather had been burned to death in a fire. The theory was that Irene, a mother with twin daughters, would relate better to the young girl, but Sophie would not talk to anyone and the case was shelved and the fire explained as the stepfather falling asleep with a cigarette.

Now fifteen years later Sophie, aged 26, has been found dead, burned by fire after having disappeared for three weeks. Irene still happily married to chef Krister with teenage twins , Jenny and Katerina is assigned the case. There are several sub plots involving a gang war involving Hell’s Angels, who are mostly from Latin America, Irene’s worries about her daughters, and rather long accounts of the relationships and activities of Sophie’s dysfunctional family. 

Sophie is a dancer and has choreographed a ballet called The Fire Dance which has moves from the Brazilian dance and combat system capoeira. Does this hold the solution to the present murder and the case in the past? 

The Fire Dance was a fairly good police procedural with a lot of detail about Irene’s family life, but sadly this book was a disappointment to me because the plot was frankly a bit thin. My attention frequently wavered onto the Winter Olympics, and the terrible weather. Perhaps I have just read too much crime fiction with too many dysfunctional Swedish families. This one had little tension, and seemingly several characters were inserted  just to pad out the predictable narrative. I am sure that several books 2-5 in the Irene Huss series are better reads than The Fire Dance, but when a book contains the sentence:

“What’s a suppository?” asked the Superintendent. 

I think there is either something wrong with the translation, or the Goteborg Murder Squad live a very sheltered life. 

The new Harry Hole

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Greece, Miss Marple, Scotland

51OKxEMZRZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Jo Nesbo created one of the best Scandinavian crime thriller series with his Harry Hole books. In my opinion the series had begun to slip very slightly in The Leopard and Phantom from the incredibly high standards set in the Oslo Trilogy [The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star] The Redeemer, and The Snowman.

 I am 184 pages into Police, the latest in the series, and Jo Nesbo seems back to his tricky confusing best. The reader gets the trademark features of Nesbo’s best books, great characters, puzzling plot twists, corruption at the top, and a brutal serial killer defying the police. And as usual Don Bartlett translates it into easily readable English. Despite the size and weight of my hardback copy I won’t put this one down.

Updating the Harry Hole series [book two is yet to be translated into English]
 The Cockroaches

P1030783Crime Scraps was started in September 2006, and I don’t know what is the average life of a blog, but I think it is well into adulthood by now. My original plan was to have a record of the books I had read, and to bring to the attention of any readers two series of detective books. The first was the ten book Martin Beck series Story of a Crime by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, of which I had read about six during the 1970s and 1980s, and I had searched second hand book shops for the remaining books with little success. The second was the Salvo Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri which I had recently discovered. 

I remember three years later charging into a WH Smith in the company of a distinguished translator of Scandinavian crime fiction, and finding only one of his books on display at the back. But within a few months Scandinavian crime fiction was all over the shelves in every type of retail outlet that sold books. And now we have had various Wallanders, Sarah Lund, and numerous other Nordic shows on TV, as well as Montalbano and Young Montalbano representing Italian crime fiction and Spiral from France with its distinctive Gallic approach.  I therefore decided to go back and spend a few weeks reading some of the crime writers who had me hooked years ago, and have read thirteen books since my holiday reading roundup.

I read and scored with star ratings:

Feast Day of Fools**, Pegasus Descending**, and Sunset Limited*** by James Lee Burke,

A Guilty Thing Surprised** and Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter*** by Ruth Rendell,

A German Requiem*** and The One from the Other*** by Philip Kerr,

The Hanging Garden*** by Ian Rankin,

Recalled to Life*****, Pictures of Perfection***** and The Wood Beyond*****by Reginald Hill,

The Scent of Death*** by Andrew Taylor [winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger]

The Windsor Faction***** by D.J.Taylor [reviewed at Euro Crime]  

So what did I learn from reading and re-reading these books. Well some authors were not as good as I remembered and others made a fresh impression that encouraged me to read more of their output. Some of the writers produced such worthy messages that it made up for their over convoluted repetitive plots. But above all I came to the conclusion Reginald Hill was an outstanding crime writer coming up with new fresh ways to write interesting crime novels. I particularly liked his Dickensian Recalled to Life, his very clever Austen like Pictures of Perfection, and one that I had read a while ago Midnight Fugue, a parody/pastiche of the TV series 24 Hours.

Andrew Taylor’s The Scent of Death was well written, with a very atmospheric  setting in 1777 Revolutionary New York, and a good read, but was it any better, and did it have as strong a moral message as  the other contenders for the Ellis Peters Award. This was the third time Andrew Taylor has won this award and I sometimes think that winning the award is a major factor in repeat wins. I am not singling out Andrew Taylor for any criticism, because there are transatlantic authors who regularly win awards every year, and when I have read a sample of their work I have found it far less worthy than The Scent of Death. Even a great Fred Vargas fan such as I still cannot understand the thinking behind her win in 2009 over a strong field which contained books by Johan Theorin,  Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen.

I have some new translated crime fiction to read and hopefully will be able to produce some full reviews, but I will end my catch up with a quote from Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, which begins with a murder in that watershed year of 1963, when an American president was assassinated, a British government fell, and a young innocent went off to university. 

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans. We who grew up in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and came to our maturity in the dreadful ‘eighties have seen the destruction of that dream without ever having the joy of dreaming it. Recalled to Life; Reginald Hill 1992     

51c0Fu8cTKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_In the third book in the Douglas Brodie series it is the winter of 1946/47, one of the coldest in memory. Brodie now a journalist but formerly a cop and a Major in the army is asked by his landlady [with benefits] Advocate Samantha Campbell to solve the burglaries occurring in Glasgow’s Jewish community. Crimes in which the local police had shown a distinct lack of interest. Brodie quickly solves the crimes, but when the perpetrator is murdered while breaking into a safe owned by a Lithuanian Jew, who might not be a Jew, the situation becomes more complex.

Are there Nazis hiding in Glasgow before resuming their journeys to South America via the Rattenlinien? May they even be hiding within the Jewish community?

Isaac’s place of worship was built about twenty years after Garnethill, at the turn of the century. It looked after the burgeoning Gorbals’ enclave. Jewish one-upmanship  [And sense of humour] dictated that they called the Johnny-come-lately the Great Synagogue. 

Samantha is involved as a prosecutor in the new wave of war crime trials starting in Hamburg, and Brodie is recruited by MI5, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and sent off to Germany to re-interview Nazis, and give evidence about his previous interviews before the Belsen war crime trials. Brodie is still traumatised by his work during those trials, although he is determined to track down those who organise the ratlines. The whole situation becomes even more fraught when on his return to Scotland the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi aim to meet out their own brand of justice to the Nazis.

I found this a difficult book to read and at times almost came to tears, which is probably a tribute to the clarity of the writing as well as the subject matter.

Shimon was born here from parents who’d pushed a cart two thousand miles from Estonia to Scotland seeking shelter from the Tsar’s murderous hordes. 

The educational value of a book that recounts the real life horrors of the Holocaust, while pointing out that the crimes were committed by rather ordinary human beings is immense. The book is well written and told in a matter of fact first person by Brodie, a great creation of whom I hope we hear a lot more. The atmosphere of post war austerity and the male dominated culture where marriage automatically meant the end of a woman’s career are conveyed accurately by the author who has researched deeply into the events of  that period. Gordon Ferris doesn’t shy away from the controversial, mentioning the gradual collapse of the mandate in Palestine, the problems of the movement of vast numbers of people as the Iron Curtain cut Europe in half, and the involvement of the CIA and even rogue priests in the Vatican in the ratlines. Pilgrim Soul has a good believable plot, interesting characters, and a blast of historical information that must never be forgotten.

The rest were former SS officers or medics at Ravensbruck, its sub-camps or other camps. Together they formed a roll  call of the most terrible places on earth: Auschwitz, Belsen, Treblinka and Buchenwald. 

Gordon Ferris has produced one of the most memorable crime fiction books I have read for some time. Pilgrim Soul was deservedly nominated for the 2013 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award.

female crime writersA photographic celebration of female crime writers for International Women’s Day.

51WrzjbXCpL._SL500_AA300_pickofthemonth2012I read more books last month than I ever thought possible. The weather kept us in a lot of the time, and many of the books were easy to read, and only one was near 500 pages. There were two non-fiction books as well as six crime fiction:

The Fall of France-The Nazi Invasion of 1940: Julian Jackson

I have read several accounts of this debacle including the classic 1969 book by Alistair Horne, To Lose a Battle: France 1940. I hope the current Franco-British alliance is more successful in their latest adventures in Francophone Africa, but I doubt it.

Interestingly in 1931 Time magazine chose the “calm, masterful” Pierre Laval as Man of the Year. He was Prime Minister of France four times. The collapse of France in 1940, and subsequent armistice, lead to the establishment in unoccupied France of the Vichy regime. After the Allied victory Pierre Laval was found guilty of high treason and executed by firing squad in 1945.

The Real Jane Austen-A life in small things: Paula Byrne

We have just passed the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice so I thought this book was an appropriate read to mark this important date in English literature. The book is full of interesting anecdotes and details about life in the Georgian and Regency period, and many of the sites associated with Jane Austen and mentioned in the book have a special significance for us.

We would frequently stop at the Jane Austen Museum at Chawton, in Hampshire, to break our journey down from London to Gosport visiting my in laws. This was in the early 1980s well before the Colin Firth TV production created a new following for Mr Darcy and Jane Austen’s books. Many years ago my wife lived in Winchester, where Jane lived her last few weeks and is buried in the cathedral. My son went to university in Bath, where Jane lived from 1801-1806 and where she set two of her novels, and I worked in Teignmouth for 15 years, where Jane holidayed in 1802. Our first holiday was at Lyme Regis, where Jane and her family visited in 1803, and 1804, and where Louisa Musgrave falls from some steps on the Cobb in Persuasion. 

Well that’s enough literary stuff for one post. The crime fiction books I read were:

Standing in Another Man’s Grave: Ian Rankin 

Spies of Warsaw: Alan Furst

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst: Anne Holt 

Perfect Hatred: Leighton Gage

Linda, As In The Linda Murder: Leif G.W. Persson  [a review will appear at Euro Crime in due course]

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn [I will be posting about this phenomenon in the next few days]

Some very good reads but the best by a whisker was Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W. Persson. 

SiAMGraveian_photoRebus is back! When I finished reading Ian Rankin’s The Complaints featuring his new cop Malcolm Fox I was fairly certain that at some stage he would bring back that loveable old rogue, John Rebus.

Rebus is retired from the police but working as a civilian employee in Lothian & Borders Serious Crime Review unit. This is where old cops go to fade away. The unit is on notice as their boss Detective Sergeant  Daniel Cowan, still a serving officer and not happy about being stuck with the geriatrics, is applying for the job at the national cold case unit that will take over their workload. Rebus is persuaded by the attractive Nina Hazlitt, whose daughter disappeared on New Year’s Eve 1999, that there is connection between several similar cases of disappearances of young women in the vicinity of the A9 road north of Edinburgh. Rebus along with his former colleague Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke begins an investigation into a possible serial killer operating in the area.

Ian Rankin appeared at Crime Fest a few years ago, and charmed his audience of crime fiction fans. His frequent television appearances are always interesting. His pleasant personality as well as the character of Rebus is the great selling point of his books. But I thought it was a little sad that Standing in Another Man’s Grave showed that while Rebus was still the insubordinate old dinosaur living off whisky and takeaways, and had lost little of his energy over the years; Rankin himself had lost a little inspiration when it came to plotting and creating new characters. The title comes from a misheard line in a Jackie Leven song “Standing in another man’s rain”. It seems as if the plot was made to fit the title, rather than the title arising naturally out of  the narrative.  

Of course the character of Rebus can carry a book even if the plot is shaky, for the most part  it isn’t, apart from a lot of driving around Northern Scotland and two subplots that seem strained and slow the action. These are firstly, a struggle between Rebus old nemesis Cafferty, and a couple of other gangsters, the old veteran Frank Hammell and the brother of one of the victims the young computer literate Darryl Christie. This is probably meant to emphasise Rebus own difficulties fitting in with the new police force and new methods. The second sub plot involves Malcolm Fox investigating Rebus. This just does not work as Fox, quite a nice character in The Complaints, comes over just as another bitter twisted internal affairs cop trying to pull down a real detective.

Despite these minor quibbles and the “Mad as a March Hare” risky scheme that Rebus pulls to finally get the perpetrator I enjoyed reading this book. Rebus does not bother with forensics, evidence, or DNA, he relies on an old copper’s hunch, and that is part of his charm, that and his humour and an insubordinate attitude we would all like to emulate.

Dempsey pointed at him, but her eyes were on Page. ‘I want him gone, do you hear me?’

‘Loud and clear,’ Page responded.

Dempsey was already getting back into the car. Her driver starting to pull away.

‘Thanks for backing me up there, boss,’ Rebus commented. 

Read the late Maxine Clarke’s Review of Standing in Another Man’s Grave here  

The 2012 CWA Ellis Peters Shortlist contains seven books of which I have now read four. A fifth Laura Wilson’s A Willing Victim has been reviewed by Maxine of Petrona [The link is to her review] and I have taken her views into consideration in picking a possible winner of this prestigious award. Here is the shortlist of seven books. 

The Crown: Nancy Bilyeau [set in 1537]

Sacrilege: S.J.Parris [1584]

I Will Have Vengeance: Maurizio De Giovanni [1931]

Prague Fatale: Philip Kerr [1941]

Bitter Water: Gordon Ferris [1946]

Icelight: Aly Monroe [1947]

A Willing Victim: Laura Wilson [1956]

I admit to not particularly liking Tudor-Elizabethan historical crime fiction, although I did enjoy one of C.J.Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. The comments on Friend Feed that The Crown involves shenanigans in a medieval nunnery, and that fans of Dan Brown will enjoy it, create a big hurdle for this book to overcome in my mind. Sacrilege by S. J.Parris I note from an Amazon review reminds us every three pages that English people in 1584 hated foreigners, and I therefore would remove that book from consideration as well. My apologies to the authors if both these books are brilliant historical thrillers, and I have been mislead by other reviewers. If one of these novels wins I promise to read it. 😉

I was about thirteen years old when I tackled La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas [in translation] and perhaps that, and subsequently The Three Musketeers and its sequels, spoilt me for anything 16th or early 17th Century. 

My choice would be between the very clever and hard hitting Prague Fatale, and the atmospheric spy story Icelight. But the idiosyncratic I Will Have Vengeance could spring a surprise. We will know tomorrow night when the winner of Ellis Peters, and the International Dagger will be announced at a black tie dinner in The Library at One Birdcage Walk.